Reflections on Holy Week and Easter 1

Posted: April 21, 2011
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Four dollars a gallon for gas.  Fourteen trillion dollar debt (increased $100k every five seconds).  Cultural polarization approaching civil war proportions.  Popular uprisings in the Middle East.  Fukushima Japan choking in radiation.  Gaddafi bullying the Libyans.  Drug lords bullying the Mexicans (and Arizonans).  Iran defiant.  China ascendant.  And Donald Trump running for President!

Easter follows Lent.  Resurrection follows death.  Redemption follows the Fall.

Tens of thousands of new Catholics will join the Church at the Easter vigil, including Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director, and six members of her family. Hundreds of thousands of youth are preparing to meet Pope Benedict XVI in Barcelona this August.  Hundreds of millions of Catholic are preparing for Pope John Paul II’s beatification on May 1.  Pro-life legislation is passing all over the U.S.

Both Lenten and Easter realities shape our perspective.  One dominates our experience, the other our faith.  If we ignore experience, we suffer from angelism (and lose friends); if we ignore faith, we suffer from naturalism (and despair). 

Some of us will go to church this Easter filled with a lively sense of God’s activity.  Others will go weary and sad.  Both are ordinary parts of a Christian’s life.  St. Paul tells us to “rejoice always” (1 Thes. 5:16).  Surely he doesn’t mean “feel happy always.”  If he does, I’m a failure as a Christian.

What does he mean?  And what does the Gospel mean when it calls the poor, meek, mournful, hungry and persecuted “blessed”?  (Notice it’s a statement of fact: “Blessed are the poor …”)  If they’re blessed, why do good Christians often feel wretched? 

Does the Gospel mean we’re blessed now or in heaven?  Theologians have differed on this.  St. Ambrose thought the blessings referred to the life to come; Augustine to this life (“blessed through hope”); John Chrysostom to a little of both.  Aquinas says that the blessedness “will be fully consummated in the life to come”; and yet “they [i.e., the blessings promised] are in a manner, begun, even in this life” (ST, I-II, q. 69, a. 2, ad 3).  The man or woman of the beatitudes begins now imperfectly to share in their rewards: “They are comforted in this life, by receiving the Holy Ghost … the Comforter.  They have their fill, even in this life, of that food of which Our Lord said: My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me…”

Catholic theology reminds us that “faith is a kind of knowing, more certain than experience.”  And faith tells us that Jesus is risen—risen from the dead.  His divinity didn’t need to be raised.  His humanity did.  And so does ours.  His divinity and his humanity were and are inseparably connected.  And since our baptism, our humanity is inseparably connected to God’s divinity.  The resurrection of Jesus guarantees that flesh in communion with God will rise.  It also guarantees that perfect communion with God is no threat to our fully human identity, that when our human nature is joined to God’s divine nature, it does not diminish or cease to exist, as the Monophysite heresy believed (“dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea”).  Rather, our humanity in communion with God is being straightened out (C.S. Lewis’ “unbent”), freed of privations, and made fit for the kingdom.

So “rejoice always” means never concede to the temptation that our experience is the final word on reality.  No, the definitive word is spoken by faith.  And faith gives us certain knowledge that Jesus is risen from the dead.  And therefore, in communion with him, we too will rise.

Happy Easter.

 

(c) Dr. E. Christian Brugger